Social Behavior and Personality: Contributions of W. I. Thomas to Theory and Social Research

Social Behavior and Personality: Contributions of W. I. Thomas to Theory and Social Research

Social Behavior and Personality: Contributions of W. I. Thomas to Theory and Social Research

Social Behavior and Personality: Contributions of W. I. Thomas to Theory and Social Research

Excerpt

The importance of W. I. Thomas in the development of American social science has been widely recognized by sociologists and social psychologists alike. It is generally conceded that his research and theory exercised considerable influence, and some of his works have long been regarded as classics among publications dealing with human society and behavior.

There has been some tendency, however, for particular concepts and theories to overshadow his more enduring contributions to the behavior sciences. For example, to some he is the father of the "situational" approach; others recall him as the senior author of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America and suppose that his most mature thought is to be found there; still others identify him by such concepts as the "four wishes," "social disorganization," or "definition of the situation," without knowing how, or whether, they are related to his fundamental scheme of thought.

The difficulty seems to be that few are familiar with the total range of Thomas' work, and as a consequence fragmentary conceptions abound. Many social scientists today assume that Thomas has little to offer in the way of systematic theory relevant to their work. In a limited sense they are correct in this view. Thomas did not write a final synthesis presenting his ideas in a systematic manner. Moreover, he had no formal doctrine which by implication would explain all kinds of behavior or social organization.

There is a difference, however, between an interpretive system of human social life and a system for studying that life so that it can be understood. Thomas' system is of the latter variety, but it is not so clearly apparent in his writings as one might wish. It must be reconstructed from his mature work. If this is done and his later ideas are viewed in conjunction with his earlier ones, there emerges the image of a person who was groping toward, and in some ways found, a fundamental position regarding the study of human behavior.

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